Detection of the Magnetospheric Emissions from Extrasolar Planets

Friday, 19 December 2014
Joseph Lazio, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
Planetary-scale magnetic fields are a window to a planet's interior and provide shielding of the planet's atmosphere. The Earth, Mercury, Ganymede, and the giant planets of the solar system all contain internal dynamo currents that generate planetary-scale magnetic fields. These internal dynamo currents arise from differential rotation, convection, compositional dynamics, or a combination of these. If coupled to an energy source, such as the incident kinetic or magnetic energy from the solar wind, a planet's magnetic field can produce electron cyclotron masers in its magnetic polar regions. The most well known example of this process is the Jovian decametric emission, but all of the giant planets and the Earth contain similar electron cyclotron masers within their magnetospheres. Extrapolated to extrasolar planets, the remote detection of the magnetic field of an extrasolar planet would provide a means of obtaining constraints on the thermal state, composition, and dynamics of its interior as well as improved understanding of the basic planetary dynamo process.

The magnetospheric emissions from solar system planets and the discovery of extrasolar planets have motivated both theoretical and observational work on magnetospheric emissions from extrasolar planets. Stimulated by these advances, the W.M. Keck Institute for Space Studies hosted a workshop entitled "Planetary Magnetic Fields: Planetary Interiors and Habitability." I summarize the current observational status of searches for magnetospheric emissions from extrasolar planets, based on observations from a number of ground-based radio telescopes, and future prospects for ground-based studies. Using the solar system planetary magnetic fields as a guide, future space-based missions will be required to study planets with magnetic field strengths lower than that of Jupiter. I summarize mission concepts identified in the KISS workshop, with a focus on the detection of planetary electron cyclotron maser emission.

The authors acknowledge ideas and advice from the participants in the "Planetary Magnetic Fields: Planetary Interiors and Habitability" workshop organized by the Keck Institute for Space Studies. Part of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA.